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Memory and identity – about Blue grapes

  • Posted on September 30, 2016 at 8:42 pm

This is an explanation or background to the poem ‘Blue grapes’.

I am watching my own memory, as I have written here over these past years. Me then, me now, what I knew and what I did not. I have written about dementia, a devastating disease that touches most of us in some way, that is affecting my mother. I have written about photographs like memory. Is this a sideline or a sibling to identity?

As I talk to my mother on the phone, my voice is familiar enough, and she remembers her son setting off camping alone in the Peak District. And yet I worry that if I were to knock on her door now, she would not recognise me. She never knew she had a daughter at the time I remember her summer skirt, when I was so small and sat or on at her knee. My best memory of that may have been stimulated by a photograph of her wearing it. Which I saw many years ago. The photograph no longer exists because she threw it away, my memory does, hers may, because it is an old memory, where I am still her son.

Somewhere inside, she is still the same young mother, whilst outside her reality is badly distorted. Today cannot be reclaimed, whilst those old days are like fluctuating embers of a dying fire. The conversations we hold now are a tissue, always the same, very fragile, everything in a tenuous memory layer, nothing really in the present. I am in the opposite pattern, where my memories are least like I really am now. One of us is hanging on to the present, the other the past, as our strongest realities.

Our identities must be more than our memories, yet without them we don’t fully make sense of the present, and so my mother and I have slipped apart even more than my bad record of being in touch deserves. I feel more myself, she less, whilst we may both remember a time long gone when she was young and wore a skirt I shall never forget, in a pattern of blue grapes.

Hence the poem, which visually represents a dialogue that is slipping apart. It can be read as one voice, or two.

Blue grapes

  • Posted on September 30, 2016 at 8:13 pm

Blue grapes

                               I shan’t ask you if you remember

blue grapes on white

                                    you may remember much better than this morning

blue grapes on white and stripes

                                           this morning has faded too soon

blue grapes on white and stripes wider than my arms

                                               too soon to recognise the loss

my last memory of blue grapes

                                                    your cotton skirt printed

was a photograph of laughter

                                                         faded and thrown away

in green fields running

                                                              girlish mother country breeze

we were children in vivid grass

                                                                  throwing your wide skirt of blue grapes

memory prints of deep past

                                                                       wider than my arms being gathered and wrapped

fading with the son

                                                                              in single colours lost pink lost green just blue

that skirt that place

                                                                                     grapes on white with stripes so wide

skirt memory

                                                                                            blue grapes

of course

                                                                                                   how could we forget?

Total recall

  • Posted on April 28, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Is it a blessing or a curse? I’m really bad at dates, maybe even at putting things in sequence. But I remember scenes, what was said, feelings, details, places. It’s the way my brain is wired. I may forget your birthday but not something you said or did. I don’t bear grudges though, or remember things that leave me angry; they are detached memories. You may have really upset me, and I will recall that, but it isn’t what I feel or think now.

It doesn’t make my memory perfect, and sadly it wasn’t ‘photographic’ for exams! I think it’s because I rethink and process things that mean something to me. That’s how I learned Greek vocabulary on the bus as a student: repeat and contextualise. But I was writing a poem this week out of a thought that tied together photographs, children and memories. As one does …

Photographs are taken to capture something meaningful, and that’s why we keep them. They bring back memories of more than that fraction of a second.

Children, even when fully adult, contain within them the memory of their conception, birth, nurture and release. This is why your own children are so different from anyone else’s.

Memories, are like both mental children, given birth – nurtured and matured, and also like photographs – captures of a story and a reminder of many other things.

All three are joined, in light and dark, happiness and sadness, continuation and closure.


My sister and I remember family photo albums, mounted with corners on black paper, some titled in white pencil, with grained-board covers and silk tassels to bind them. They were valuable enough to be kept in polythene bags, but not so valuable that our Mum threw them out years ago. I wonder what memories she didn’t want to keep or bequeath? There are no other pictures of our childhood. That was some time ago, and now she has still to meet her un-remembered daughter for the first time whom she has only seen in a photograph.

This week I tried to be helpful in preparing for divorce by drawing up a list of worldly goods, including my family photo albums. I suggested I had the negatives, in case I change my mind (it’s OK, there’s no blackmail in mind!) about saying my wife can have them all. They represent happy times and togetherness, before I lost my family to rejection. To me, they are pictures of contingent love, and that hurts. I have children, and I don’t even know where one of them lives. I have memories, but they are detached from my emotions now. They are reconceptualised, like Copernicus’ skies.


Nothing reminds you so much of your past, where you were, what it was like, or of your past aspirations and hopes. They sometimes brought directness and honesty into your life with their naivety, they made you laugh and drove you up the wall – only to dissolve it by lying on the floor and enacting ‘driving up the wall’. Yes, there is a photo …

Children capture your past and keep it, and remind you as they repeat your mistakes, bring new challenges and question everything you thought you remembered. They are yours, but also someone else’s, so inevitably they join other things together.


As unreliable as children, and as uncertain as a photo with no caption on the back or sequence in the album, memories are changeable, but often all we have. The most vivid are moments with meaning: developing love, profound emotions, the birth of children, achievement after struggle, moments of emotional risk, times when you suddenly realised things were not as you thought. Difficult conversations and lost friendships. The last time your daughter gave you a hug.

Memories could have a whole blog to themselves, possessive as they are, sometimes demanding as children, and imprinted through exposure to light and dark.

The poem

And so I wrote the poem, left it to marinate, and came back to stir it up and lay it out very differently and visually. This is something that ‘happened’ to a poem I wrote on suicidal feelings, and which made it really suddenly a lot more powerful, where the placing and spreading added as much as the words when read across the page. If you appreciate good poetry you may understand this, but basically I am saying you can read this in several ways. First, as unbroken lines like any other poem, but then in vertical or horizontal fragments, which may not be wholly grammatical, but as fragments they still have sense and meaning. It’s slightly holographic – and not very amenable simply to reading as performance! This one isn’t as complex as that, but read it across first, then try bits down, or at random.

Here is Recall as it stands at the moment (never say poem is really finished).


  • Posted on April 28, 2013 at 11:51 am


are like children that are memories
with birth times and wide eyes
exposed to light and shadows
memories joined to memories
are like memories that are photographs
that were once of our family
exposed to happiness and sadness
times joined to times
are like photographs that are children
wide-eyed free and happy
exposed forever as we once were
light shining onto light
photographs children memories
being recalled are as one exposure of our
longing and open eyes


2013 © Andie Davidson